Cao Fei’s Cosplayers and the power of costumes

Cao Fei - Golden Figher's despair
Cao FeiGolden Fighter’s

About Cosplayers

Chinese multimedia artist Cao Fei’s 2004 work explores the imagined identities of cosplayers (young people who dress up as game characters) and how they interact with the real world. To these individuals, a costume bestows magical powers upon the wearer, rendering their person more special and enabling them to transcend their mundane reality. These are people living in a video game world, alienated by the real, waking world, and seeking to unite the two spaces to live in a way that allows them to actually be this magic character by creating their own realities. Her work reflects the fluid identities of China as a growing, evolving culture, juxtaposing escapist fantasies alongside vivid realities.

Cao Fei about Cosplay

This cinematic work is an experiment that employs a surrealistic plot to give COSPLAYERS (young people dressed as game characters) the ability to traverse the city at will, and to engage in combat within their imaginary world. They expect their costumes will grant them true magical power, enabling the wearer to transcend reality and put themselves above all worldly and mundane concerns.

All COSPLAYERS are very young, with dreams in their heads, spending all their waking hours in the virtual world of video games from a very early age. Hence when they eventually grow up, they discover they are living a life style frowned upon and rejected by society and family members alike. With no channels open to express their feeling and aspirations they resort to escapism and, becoming alienated and out of touch, they turn into ever more unbecoming characters. However, in that moment when they are turned into genies, chivalrous knights, fairy princesses, or geeks, the pains of reality are assuaged, even if the “real” world they are standing on has not changed to the slightest.

In recent years a group of COSPLAYERS, growing up in and around China’s coastal cities, have been confronted by both the traditional values of the Chinese education system and subjected to the pull of invading foreign cultures in the new century. As a group of adolescents who refuse to grow-up, they choke themselves with passionate impulses and an undisguised infatuation with personal fancies, expressed through ways and manners only they can understand and be comfortable with.


Cao Fei - Cosplayers - Housebreaker
Cao FeiHousebreaker

Cao Fei - Cosplayers - Erector's Sword
Cao FeiErector’s Sword

Cao Fei - Cosplayers - Game over
Cao FeiGame over

Cao Fei - Cosplayers - A Mirage, 2004, C-print, 75 x 100 cm
Cao FeiA Mirage, 2004

Cao Fei - Cosplayers - City Watcher
Cao FeiCity Watcher

Cao Fei – Deep breathing
Cao FeiDeep breathing

Cao Fei - Cosplayers - Hijiacking
Cao FeiHijacking

Cao Fei - Cosplayers - Super Junkman
Cao FeiSuper Junkman

Cao Fei - Cosplayers - Hello! Kitty
Cao FeiHello! Kitty

Cao Fei - The Diversionist
Cao FeiThe Diversionist

Cao Fei - Cosplayers - She wish she know
Cao FeiShe wish she know

Cao Fei - Cosplayers - Golden Fighter
Cao FeiGolden Fighter

Cao Fei - Cosplayers - A Ming at Home, 2004, C-print, 75 x 100cm
Cao Fei – A Ming at Home, 2004, C-print, 75 x 100cm

All images by Cao Fei/ unless otherwise noted.


3min 20sec

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